The United States of America is founded on the unequivocal belief that all humans are created equal and deserve unequivocal human rights. Although the Founding Fathers initially only intended these rights to go towards landowning white men, over the years, they’ve been extended to protect more and more demographics. Currently, it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity, sex, ability status, or religion in the United States. However, there’s still a long way to go. The US still does not have any federal legislation that protects against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. That means that the decision to legally protect against sexuality-based discrimination is left up to individual state governments, but the majority of state governments have passed no such legislation. Only 22 states (including Washington DC) have passed laws that explicitly protect members of the LGBTQ community from employment and housing discrimination. In the remaining 29 states, members of the LGBTQ community can legally be fired or denied housing just for being gay, bisexual, or transgender. Until all Americans are protected from discrimination, including members of the LGBTQ community, we cannot in good faith claim to be a free and equal country.
A 2015 poll found that 63% of LGBTQ Americans reported experiencing some form of discrimination in their personal lives. Almost 50% of LGBTQ Americans have experienced workplace discrimination. 14% have been discriminated against on the housing market, and 8% reported discrimination at school. The unfortunate, infuriating truth is that discrimination is a common, unifying experience among members of the LGBTQ community. The Equality Act, championed by the Human Rights Campaign, seeks to change this unfortunate truth. If it gets passed, the Equality Act will protect all LGBTQ Americans against discrimination in the workplace, the education system, the housing market, and in receiving services because of their gender identity or sexuality. It would amend all preexisting civil rights laws, like the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Fair Housing Act, and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Most importantly, it would allow LGBTQ Americans to exist proudly and publicly, without fear of retribution or discrimination because of who they are.
Many people believe that the fight for LGBTQ rights ended in 2015, when the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all fifty states. Although that was undoubtedly a huge stride forward for the LGBTQ community, the raging debate around the Equality Act proves that there’s still important work to be done. Right now, it’s perfectly legal for employers, landlords, educators, and businesses to discriminate on the basis of sexuality and gender identity. On a pragmatic level, this makes it difficult for LGBTQ Americans to live their lives openly. Coming out as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer can be a huge gamble, since LGBTQ people can never be sure how the people around them will react. The worst-case scenario is exactly what the Equality Act seeks to prevent — coming out might mean getting fired from a job, getting denied housing, and uprooting a lifetime’s worth of safety and security. On an ideological level, the fact that it’s perfectly legal to discriminate against LGBTQ people makes it easier to excuse acts of homophobia and transphobia in people’s personal lives. By passing the Equality Act, the federal government would be taking a clear stance in alliance with LGBTQ citizens and residents and against bigotry and hatred. By explicitly supporting the LGBTQ community, the federal government would be taking a step to actively discourage homophobia and transphobia.
Although the overarching goal of the Equality Act is to prevent discrimination against LGBTQ Americans, many of its subsections seek to help protect the rights of other demographics besides the LGBTQ community. For example, the Equality Act will help protect women from sexual harassment in public spaces, like restaurants, stores, and transportation by requiring businesses and service providers to explicitly address and take measures to prevent gender-based harassment. The Equality Act also seeks to eliminate the Pink Tax, or the practice of arbitrarily charging women higher prices for goods and services, from clothing to car repairs. The Equality Act will also strengthen protections for people of color in public places. Under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, hotels and restaurants are prohibited from discriminating based on race or ethnicity. The Equality Act will extend civil rights protections to ensure that transportation providers, retailers, accountants, and many other types of businesses do not discriminate on the basis of race.
Additionally, the Equality Act will go a long way in protecting LGBTQ youth and parents. Under the Equality Act, all schools that receive any amount of federal funding will no longer be able to discriminate against LGBTQ students. This means that transgender, non-binary, and gender nonconforming students will gain the legal right to use whatever bathroom or locker room best suits their gender identity. It also means that schools will no longer be allowed to prevent students from forming LGBTQ clubs or student organizations. The Equality Act will also have a huge impact on the adoption and foster care system. Currently, adoption agencies and foster care institutions are legally allowed to deny prospective parents from adopting or fostering children because of their sexuality or gender identity. This means that many children in the foster care system are prevented from joining loving, caring, and capable homes, just because their prospective parents or foster parents are gay, lesbian, or transgender. The Equality Act will prohibit child welfare agencies from taking sexual orientation or gender identity into consideration during the foster or adoption process, creating a fairer and less discriminatory child welfare system.
As of 2017, 70% of all Americans, regardless of political affiliation, indicated that they supported laws that would protect the LGBTQ community against discrimination. Despite this widespread support among the American people, there is still considerable pushback against the Equality Act in Congress, the place where support for the bill matters most. Over the past three-and-a-half years, the Equality Act has been repeatedly introduced in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Every time that the bill has been introduced in the past, it has died in committee. Most recently, the Equality Act was introduced to the House of Representatives on March 19, 2019. If you’re interested in doing your part to encourage your local representatives to support this bill, there are several ways that you can get involved. One of the easiest ways to get involved is to call or email your local congressperson. The Human Rights Campaign’s website includes convenient links that help you contact your member of Congress and support the Equality Act by phone or by email. If you’re looking for an even more hands-on approach, you can also become a grassroots lobbyist for the Equality Act. The Human Rights Campaign’s website also provides a 30-minute online lobbying course, which will help prepare you to effectively advocate for the Equality Act. Finally, you can search for events near you, where you can show up and do your part to support equality for all Americans.
Until the federal government takes an explicit stand in protecting the LGBTQ community from discrimination and harassment, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for LGBTQ Americans to feel safe and respected in their own country. The Equality Act seeks to make good on the ideology of equality that this nation was founded upon, which is why it’s crucial that we support it any way that we can.